It is quite normal to experience heartburn during pregnancy. Also called as acid reflux or acid indigestion, heartburn is characterized by a burning sensation that extends all the way from the throat to the lower chest. The sensation is often accompanied by a sour or acidic taste in the mouth.
Many women experience heartburn during pregnancy owing to fluctuating hormonal levels. The surge in the levels of hormones (mainly progesterone) in the body during pregnancy would usually soften the ligaments lining the lower esophageal sphincter (the LES), causing it to relax and open up (it is tightly closed otherwise). When this happens, the contents of the stomach, including acids can sometimes seep back into the throat via the esophagus. This would cause the burning sensation and acidic taste that are associated with heartburn.
High levels of progesterone in the body during pregnancy would also slow down the gastrointestinal tract considerably. When this happens, the intestines become sluggish and digestion is delayed. This would cause the indigested foods to remain in the stomach for longer periods, thereby causing an adverse reaction with the stomach acids. When this happens, the acids (and sometimes food particles as well) reflux back into the throat (and mouth), leaving a sour taste in the mouth and a burning sensation in the throat and chest.
In certain cases, women may experience heartburn during late pregnancy. This would usually occur when the developing fetus places more pressure on the other organs of the body, including the stomach and the abdominal cavity. The excess pressure can sometimes cause the stomach acids to move upwards into the throat, causing heartburn.
Easy Ways to Treat and Prevent Heartburn in Pregnancy Effectively
Although heartburn is more prevalent during the second trimester of pregnancy, some women tend to experience it throughout their pregnancy. And though it would not be possible to get rid of heartburn completely, there are some simple tips that can help you get relief from the condition and prevent it from recurring frequently. Here are some of the more common remedies to effectively treat/prevent heartburn.
Keep Away from Triggers
Certain foods that you eat can increase indigestion and acid reflux. Keep away from these potential triggers! Some of the foods that you need to be wary about when it comes to heartburn include citrus fruits, citrus juices, chocolates, fried foods, mint foods, tomatoes (and any dish that contains them), vinegar, spicy foods, seasoned foods, mustard and fatty foods etc.
Beverages like coffee, tea, cola and other caffeinated drinks can cause the lower esophageal sphincter to relax and contribute to heartburn. Fizzy drinks and alcoholic drinks would do the same and so would need to be avoided during pregnancy as well. Smoking would increase your risks of experiencing heart burn during pregnancy. So try staying away from the butt until you give birth.
Eat Slowly, Properly and Limitedly
Don’t gobble down your food in a rush. And don’t stuff your mouth with too much food and end up swallowing it as well. Sit down and wait for your body to relax before you start eating. This will prevent you from rushing through your food or overeating. Take small portions of food and chew them properly before swallowing.
Instead of eating big meals that can keep your stomach filled with indigested food for longer periods, opt for smaller but more frequent meals (for instance, 6 small meals at regular intervals throughout the day) to keep your stomach filled and yet light. This way you can prevent indigestion and the heartburn that comes with it.
Keep Your Body Hydrated, But Not At Meal Times
Don’t get us wrong. While the body needs extra water and fluids during pregnancy, too much of water can cause issues like water retention and abdominal distention.
The risks of contracting these conditions increase further if you tend to drink plenty of water and other fluids during meals. Abdominal distention can cause the LES to relax and the stomach acids to move up the same into the throat, causing heartburn. So make it a point to drink small amounts of fluids before, during or after meals.
Exercise after a Meal
We don’t want you to jump up and down or do cartwheels! Rather, we want you to walk a bit, dust a bit, read a bit or do anything that would make you move around instead of lying down. Lying down or going to sleep immediately after a meal would increase the chances of the stomach acids washing back into the esophagus and throat.
Don’t bend over at the waist. Doing so would put extra pressure on your stomach, forcing it to purge its contents, including acids back into the esophagus. Bend at the knees even when you need to pick up something from the floor. This would prevent heartburn effectively.
Maintain Your Posture Even While Sleeping
Slouching would put extra pressure on your stomach during pregnancy and would cause heartburn. So make it a point to sit straight at all times. When you go to sleep, keep your head and shoulders elevated to prevent the stomach acids from seeping back into the esophagus. Use a wedge under your pillow to elevate it to a height of about 8 inches when you sleep. This should effectively prevent heartburn.
Don’t Put on Too Much Weight
Even though weight gain is considered necessary during pregnancy, too much of weight gain can cause obesity which in turn can cause heartburn by putting excessive pressure on the stomach. So make sure you remain within the guidelines of healthy weight gain during pregnancy and put on only the required amount of weight as suggested by the doctor.
Avoid Tight Clothing
Wearing tight clothing during pregnancy can put more pressure on the body. Tight clothing, especially those that are tight around the chest, stomach and abdomen can put extra pressure in these areas, causing heartburn or aggravating an already existing condition.
So avoid wearing tight clothing during pregnancy and opt for loose, airy clothing that gives ample space for your bulging tummy to breathe and move around without being crammed.
Homemade and OTC Remedies that Can Help Combat Heartburn In Pregnancy
Certain homemade remedies or over the counter medications can be used to treat heartburn temporarily until you see a doctor about the issue. For instance, ginger is considered to be a good remedy for all kinds of gastrointestinal disorders, including heartburn. Sipping on ginger ale or chewing a ginger candy can help ease heartburn.
Over the counter medications that can be used to treat heartburn in pregnant women (make sure you check the medications with your doctor first) include antacids containing extra magnesium or calcium (like Tums, Gaviscon, Maalox, Rolaids and Mylanta etc.).
In case an antacid cannot do the trick, you can opt for stronger medications like H2 blockers that help curb the production of stomach acids. These H2 blockers are available without prescription and are considered safe for pregnant women. Commonly available ones include Zantac and Tagamet.
In the case of OTC medications for heartburn, there are certain drugs that you need to steer clear of if you are pregnant. Attempting to take these drugs to ease heartburn can put your pregnancy at risk.
For instance, sodium bicarbonate can cause bloating or abdominal swelling. And antacids containing aluminum can cause conditions like toxicity or constipation. So stay away from these options and check with your doctor before opting for any other medication to treat heartburn.